MOMRI Research Fellows Participate in Historic Joint International Forum Sponsored by the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and the International Council on Traditional Music (ICTM) in Limerick, Ireland.
MOMRI Research Fellows Participate in Joint International Forum Sponsored by the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and the International Council on Traditional Music (ICTM) in Limerick, Ireland.
Theme: “Transforming Ethnomusicological Praxis through Activism and Community Engagement” Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick, Ireland, Sept. 13-16, 2015
Report by Olivier Urbain, Craig Robertson and Elaine Sandoval, Sept. 22, 2015
This conference brought together for the first time the largest ethnomusicology organizations for the purpose of discussing ethnomusicological projects in activism and community engagement, or what is commonly discussed as “applied ethnomusicology.” As an umbrella term for research that contributes back to the community being researched, applied ethnomusicology might be considered by its very definition to be a form of music and peacebuilding. With this in mind, therefore, the connections that the Min-On Music Research Institute made during the course of the conference were of direct relevance and value to our ongoing work. Furthermore, the debates that proliferated throughout the conference about praxis, the role of activism, and the numerous ethical issues facing ethnomusicologists when conducting research will prove to be very useful in understanding and evaluating music and peacebuilding activities.
The keynote speakers were among the most well-respected ethnomusicologists in the world; all were very inspiring. Angela Impey discussed transitional justice through song, truth-telling and memory in South Sudan. Anthony Seeger and Svanibor Pettan discussed the field of applied ethnomusicology as a whole, including ethical and moral requirements to work with and assist those that one researches through the act of researching itself, and ideas for future efforts. Jeff Titon, meanwhile, gave an inspiring, if rather utopian, speech arguing for sound-centric epistemologies as a way forward in re-imagining the basis of human relationships from that of competition to that of cooperation and how music might pave the way for these new forms of intercultural relationships. Luke Eric Lassiter spoke specifically about methodologies of collaborative ethnography, and its implications for activism-oriented work. Inspired by recent movements around police brutality in the United States, Deborah Wong gave a compelling address urging the consideration of witnessing as a methodology. Perhaps the most inspiring talk of all of the keynotes, however, was the closing presentation from Jose Jorge de Carvalho who discussed efforts in Brazilian higher education to move beyond Western-centric curricula, in tandem with the development of a racial quota system for students. Specifically, through efforts to bring in indigenous and Afro-Brazilian “masters” of traditional sciences, skills, and arts as university professors, they sought to: address the unequally represented modes of knowledge production in the modern world; address to a degree the colonization of the world by Western thought and praxis; enable the sounds and cultures of all peoples in Brazil to be shown as having value; demonstrate to tribal students that there was a place for them in the wider society that was not subservient or somehow lesser than the dominant hegemony.
It has become clear to me that peacebuilding and ethnomusicology are deeply connected. After attending and presenting at Peace Studies conferences for many years, this was my first introduction to the world of ethnomusicologists, or the realms of anthropology and ethnography, for that matter. I found it hard to distinguish between the research on music and peacebuilding we are conducting and the work presented by most of the participants.
One reason is that the theme of the forum was “Transforming Ethnomusicological Praxis through Activism and Community Engagement,” and this specific focus constitutes a large part of what we mean by peacebuilding. A second reason is that most researchers struck me as deeply humanistic, committed to clear ethical principles that translate in treating all people with respect and care. Is this the result of decades of accumulated experience regarding how ethnography should be conducted?
For instance I was impressed with the praxis of Appreciative Inquiry, a style of interviewing and ethnographic research that implies bringing the best in the people whose lives and circumstances one studies, or rather,“together with whom” life is studied. It has now become clear to me that our work on music and peacebuilding must include, and will benefit immensely from, the research conducted by ethnomusicologists for decades.
Among a vast array of concrete activities, I will remember in particular the presentations dealing with the application of music in the case of: refugees in Kenya; catastrophic trash in Haiti; Liberian Women in Philadelphia; identity issues in South Sudan; community education for the Venda people of South Africa, resistance in the Richmond city jail, and inclusive education in Nepal, among others.
I was already familiar with Angela Impey’s work, but I was particularly interested in her discussion on the value of different forms of knowledge, a topic that was echoed by other speakers throughout the conference. I was left wondering through, in the process of highlighting individual cases, such as the South Somali case here, what groups were still being disregarded or ignored in the wider world of knowledge production? Overall, there was a feeling of excitement emanating from ethnomusicologists when discussing the possibility of applying their work and knowledge to that of international development. Although, when asked directly, the form of international development that most were actually referring to easily falls within the realm of peacebuilding.
Another notable connection that was made was with Violeta Ruano-Posada (SOAS, London) who is researching the music and political case of the Saharawi people in Morocco. Ruano-Posada’s work was interesting in that it focused on her role as archivist and researcher as a form of political activism on behalf of the Saharawi people. I thought perhaps she was discussing two actually separate topics as if they were one, however. These being ethnomusicology itself on the one hand, and being an activist on the other.
Katherine Morehouse discussed Ethnomusicology Activism and Community Engagement in worldwide Christian Worship. This was interesting because she took the globalization of Christian worship practices and observed how they were adapted to local music cultures and traditions, thereby forming hybridized cultural expressions. Morehouse has developed an interesting methodology of action research that involves discovering a felt need in a localized group, assessing what a successful agency would be (provide access to resources, make choices about musical praxis, sustain the activity), supporting the local community develop their project, and spark a global interest in the local events. While I agree wholeheartedly with the dialogic approach, I was left wondering about issues of self-censorship, disagreements over best practice, internal conflicts within the local groups, and just how these issues relate to the musical material and experiences themselves.
As an ethnomusicologist-in-training, I was very inspired and encouraged to see the breadth of projects being pursued by other scholars. Of particular interest to my own work, this included several presentations seeking to bring together ethnomusicology and music education considerations. Moreover, the extent to which research and ethnographic methodologies were analyzed was very refreshing. The vast majority of what we consider ethnomusicological work is pursued through fieldwork and ethnographic methodologies, including projects that seek to advocate for or otherwise support the communities being researched. As such, reflexive, critical discussion around ethics and research techniques is imperative, perhaps especially in such applied ethnomusicology work. Memorably, T.M. Scruggs spoke about the importance of evaluability,especially in terms of economics, in El Sistema; Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg reflected on the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process in relation to applied ethnomusicology; Oliver Shao offered ideas of “critical activist ethnography” based on his own recent fieldwork; and several conversations arose about the economies and professionalization processes of ethnomusicology academia. I also appreciated that several scholars – including Andy McGraw, David McDonald, and Sally Treloyn – offered deeply thoughtful and provocative reflections about their own roles, subjectivities, and associated discomforts as ethnomusicologists in relation to their projects and collaborators.
MOMRI Moving Forward:
Following this conference, the obvious question becomes: what can MOMRI contribute to the field of music and peacebuilding? Based on several discussions with participants at the conference, our research on “the potential application of music in peacebuilding activities” can offer a global view of the topic from the angle of the various issues pertaining to peacebuilding (conflict transformation, social justice, human rights, ecosystem conservation and the like) and then from this bird’s eye view, we can help connect the dots between what appears to be a huge number of disparate research endeavors and activities on the ground. We hope to help highlight the links between various ethnomusicological projects, and also show the connections with other fields, such as music psychology/sociology/education/ecology/ or music and development and more.
We were pleased to meet several researchers very interested in hearing about MOMRI and our activities. They will be valuable contacts for us in the future, possibly contributing to our publications and other projects. A similar applied ethnomusicology conference is to be held in Cape Breton, Canada in October 2016 (Craig’s home area!). We hope that a couple of us might be able to attend. We also plan to continue connecting with the commissions and special interest groups within SEM and ICTM on applied ethnomusicology and ethnomusicology and violence. In this way, we can have a better understanding about music and peacebuilding from an ethnomusicology perspective, and we can also share peacebuilding praxis with them in this forum.
Our participation as MOMRI research fellows in this forum has been an eye opener regarding two main insights: first, research and activities that fall in the category of “music and peacebuilding” have been conducted for decades by ethnomusicologists and a tremendous amount of work has already been done. Second, we are in a position to be of service if we can offer a global vision that helps connecting the dots.
The new contacts we have made in Limerick, as well as the countless insights and original ideas we were offered will keep us happily busy for a long time.